Wednesday, 27 January 2010
A Wee Dram at the Salt Bar
Yet again, those Qype gurus have come up aces with another memorable gathering. This time it was another topic close to our hearts (and stomachs): a Burns Night/Talisker whisky tasting event at Salt Bar on Edgeware Road.
I still remember my first Burns night only 2 months into my move to the UK. We were living in Aberfoyle, a picture postcard town nestled in the Trossachs. The Burns night we attended was in a nearby town, Gartmore. We had just moved to the area so didn't know anyone, and, just like the unspoken cafeteria rules in school we found ourselves marooned off all the 'popular' tables. Our dining partners looked to be the elders of the town. They seemed amused at the lesbian couple, one of which was American. Nevertheless, we made the best of our situation and settled in for the meal. Oh, that was the other incongruity - we were still vegetarian! Luckily they had veggie haggis, but that definitely added another mark to our otherness that night. I got to experience the whole 'performance', from piping in the haggis, the various addresses and then a round robin of people reciting his poems from heart. Needless to say, most of the people who knew the poems from heart happened to be sitting at our table!
We've had various Burns celebrations since, and now this year's to add.
We arrived at the bar before they sent the piper out to bring in the stragglers. While the rest of attendees were arriving we were treated to a Manhattan with Talisker of course. I had a very interesting conversation with the barman about the recent shortages of Angosturra bitters, in fact he was using his own stock and said imports in were stopped until April/May this year. I wonder if we'll start seeing eBay auctions of Angosturra bitters. And does anyone out there in the interweb know why there's a shortage?
There was lots of friendly milling about. We met Billy who told us about his specialty glass collection -- basically a glass specifically matched to it's contents. We met Ian who also is a whisky aficionado and we met the fellow behind tiredoflondontiredoflife.com. He didn't seem so tired about the evening though.
I had a great conversation with Clark McGinn, a Burns specialist who gave the crowd a great overview of the poet, his life, and his lasting influence today. The bar area was decorated with gorse bushes that had Burns poems tied to the branches. This was a nod to Burns own practice of analog blogging during his time.
The first whisky we tasted was a Talisker 10 year old. Our tasting was led by Colin Dunn. He took us through the procedure step by step: first cup the top of the glass with one hand and swirl the contents to get the aromas circulating. second, take a good long sniff and let the taste permeate. third, take a SIP and swirl the contents in your mouth for a 10-second count. fourth, and final: swallow and experience the follow through. I found with this one that by the time I had swallowed my gums and tongue were tingling. I did taste that salty mermaid's kiss that you find in Islay malts though and was looking forward the next. This first whisky was paired with a canape of smoked salmon. The fattyness of the salmon helped to smooth out the edge of the whisky.
The second whisky was Talisker Distillers Edition. A much smoother, headier taste that, per Colin's instructions was meant to be held in your mouth for 15 seconds before swallowing. Another note about the space: there was a small table set up with the three whiskies and behind the bottles were apothecary jars of the various flavour notes each whisky displays. I remember for the second whisky the jar was full of dates. This whisky was accompanied by haggis, neeps and tatties, and yes, Clarke did the full address, spearing the haggis with his knife.
Our third and final whisky was Talisker 57-deg. For me this was the highlight of the evening, especially paired with the chocolate mousse.
After the tasting we had more milling about. I picked up on the Billy thread and had conversation with Colin about the glass shape used during the tasting. As expected it's all about concentrating aromas and flavours to build a lasting experience. His explanation included a scenario with Robert De Niro in a hotel room, but I'll spare the details.
At the bar we admired the extensive whisky selection on offer. I never would have expected such a great collection. We spoke to the manager about his collection and noted they were selling Salt Bar labelled bottles from their own casks. The food features lots of Scottish sourced ingredients, from Salmon to Aberdeen Angus steaks. Needless to say we'll be back for a lengthier tasting and a bite to eat.
And to preserve our memories of the evening we were each given a goodie bag that contained a half bottle of Talisker, a Talisker etched tumbler and a personalised hand calligraphed note book.
Thank you Qype, Salt Bar and Talisker for a great evening.